When he said this weekend after church, my heart sunk.
I’m not the type of girl who will wear a thong to please anyone else looking at my butt other than me. I though Peter was that type of guy too – only brushes teeth when absolutely necessary (meeting in the boardroom level type, as opposed to staying in the house all day and not coming across human contact), down for random adventures, a great believer in avoidance of pain at most costs. Intelligent. Free radical. Untamed, with no desire to be so.
I should have noticed when he started going to the church on the corner. It was a quiet little church. Nondescript. Out of the way. Harmless, even. Deceptively so.
I didn’t mind the tracts he’d carry home. Hey, everyone needs a little spirituality in their lives, right? I mean, apparently, our brains are wired in that direction. We have to worship something – if not God, or ourselves, or money – it has to be something. Sometimes, I thought that for me, it was Peter.
Because to me, Peter was perfect. He was smart, and funny, and OCD about things in the cutest ways, like his sock drawer and closing all the doors at night before we went to sleep because he couldn’t sleep otherwise. It was cute. And because he was so smart, I didn’t think anything like this could actually happen to a thinking, logical human being. And because he was my perfection, I let it happen.
At some point he started asking me to go to church with him. I took a deep breath. He saw the look on my face. He explained it to me – why it was a good idea. I shook my head.
‘Maybe for you, babe. You know I’m not the church type.’
But he wore me down. I don’t know if they teach you that at church – how to flood the people in your life with so much evangelism that eventually they come to hear The Message – that’s what they called it – just to shut them up.
The final push – shove, really – was when he said that it was important to him. It is quite possible that nothing could have swayed me at the point of exhaustion I was. But he reminded me. He said he sat through all my phases of painting, then sculpting, then mosaics and collages – and a little tai bo training and origami too – all the classes I made him take me to, all the lectures, all the fees he paid, because it was important to me. He knew it was unfair of him to bring it up. He knew I would come anyway because of the fact that he did.
It became a cycle. We would go to church every week, sit at the very front like a perfect couple. Before we left the house, I’d have a shot of espresso to keep me awake through the sermon. I’d have to hide it so he didn’t know how much I wanted to shoot myself – or everyone else – every time the sermon started just so it would stop. I’d smile. Play nice every time someone said for the umpteenth time, ‘Oh, you’re Peter’s wife? Peter’s so nice,’…then look at me, puzzled, like, why wasn’t I as nice? Where was my fervour, my divine enthusiasm? I’d lost it somewhere between the scripture reading and trying to count the tassels on the curtains to the side of the pulpit.
I knew I was reaching breaking point, though. We talked about nothing else. Not news. Not my art. Not his job (which he had taken an indefinite sabbatical from, without telling me, until I called him at work to pick up grapes for salad on the way home and his ex-secretary informed me, embarrassed, that he wasn’t in and hadn’t been in for a while, and apologized, like she was the liar and sudden spectator in my marriage). Not his parents. Nothing else, but the church. I was, again, exhausted. It seemed to be a cycle, from when it began – him begging me to come. Him begging me to stay. Him begging me to join the prayer cells. Me being exhausted at every turn.
The stick was lit when he had a cold from hell. He was coughing every day and all through the night – deep, racking coughs that made neighbours think someone was dying slowly, and scared the dog. The wheezing gasps of cracked, blackened lungs, like a chain smoker’s. The type of cough that makes people hold their shawls and jackets tighter as you walk by in case whatever you have is airborne and their layers are superhero disease-averse immediate-vaccination capes.
He didn’t want to take any medicine. He said The Message would heal him. That the prayer cell were praying hard for him, on their top priority prayer lists. That nothing physical could overwhelm the supernatural.
He refused to listen to me. He ignored my tears, my rages, my blackmail. He shut his ear to my logic about how inconsiderate he was being – what if I caught his suspicious TB-like disease? What if my Perfect Peter left me alone in the world? Just because death was supposed to be the only thing doing us part, didn’t mean he had to invite it to dinner.
He said that The Evil One would not get him, and there were other apostles who would rise in his place if it was his time to go. And he invited those apostles to our house, that weekend, after church.
I thought he would remember.
And I, as usual, was too tired to fight it. They trooped in, eyes glazed, hands raised. Their fat, tithe-filled bellies hovered over the dining room table – both almost equally laden – to pick, with their pudgy hands, what I – and the Creator – had made. I loathed them, but I knew it wasn’t their fault.
‘You look lovely today.’
I smiled weakly.
‘Tell me…have you ever thought of leading the session we have for young girls? I’m sure you know about it, Peter must have mentioned we wanted to put your name forward. Such a fine young man…’
I walked away. And was cornered again, this time by the Leader of The Message.
‘Where to in such a hurry?’
I had no energy to smile.
‘You should smile a little bit more. It is a special day today, that we are visiting your house.’
‘Yes. On my birthday.’
‘Oh!’Surprise, but not real concern. As long as he had his spring roll in hand. ‘Peter, why didn’t you tell us?’
‘Tell you what?’
‘It’s your wife’s birthday today.’
‘Oh!’ Surprise. Not real concern. Or guilt. Or anyone I used to know. He coughed and a little bit of spittle landed on the Leader’s spring roll. The Leader didn’t notice. He just smiled, a little too intently at me, and in what seemed like slow motion, opened his gaping mouth to pop the rest of the roll in. A wave of nausea and realization hit me like a slap from Andre the Giant at the smell of his beady-eyed opportunism and cheap aftershave.
I threw up on his glossy shoes.
‘Your sermon was shit,’ I said, wiping my mouth. So that’s why I’d been so tired all the time.
‘Please excuse my wife-‘
‘No. Please don’t.’
And so I was done. All I needed was a little reason, I guess. Another slice of perfection to move on to.